Is your genealogy research stalled? Try finding your ancestors in uncommon genealogy sources. #genealogy #familyhistory #ancestors
How To Trace Your Family Tree

How To Find and Research Unusual Genealogy Sources

How to find and use unusual genealogy sources to research your ancestors. Jumpstart your research using uncommon records you may have missed.

In a previous post, I shared one of my children’s favorite television shows when they were little –  the Disney Channel’s show Out of the Box.  We all loved that show!  (I still have the theme song in my head.) Encouraged to use their imaginations, my children were soon using everyday objects to create castles and boats and forts and tea parties… get the idea.  My children were thinking outside of the box when it came to their play.

Now don’t worry.  We are not going to be researching imaginary ancestors or record sets!


We are going to think “outside of the genealogy box” and consider unusual genealogy sources to find our ancestors.  Let’s think beyond the standard genealogy research of census records, birth records, marriage records, etc.

woman with questioning expression
Think “Outside of the Genealogy Box”

Finding and using those “out of the box” genealogy sources will benefit your genealogy research. Don’t limit your success by only researching the traditional genealogy records.

Below I am sharing unusual or  “out of the box” genealogy sources that can be used in your genealogy research.

Tips before we get started:

  1. Get to know your ancestor well – I mean very well! – in the traditional genealogy records. Were they in the military?  Do you know their occupation? Who was important to them? Who appeared alongside them in the records? Having a good understanding of your ancestor in traditional records will help you recognize your ancestor in the more unusual record sets.
  2. When you find an “out of the box” record set, educate yourself on that unique and/or unusual record sets by reading the “About” sections on records before you begin your research.  Find out exactly what a record set contains and how the records are organized.  Also, learn about any idiosyncrasies about that particular record set. This will be a huge time saver as you research.

Unusual or “Out of the Box” Genealogy Sources 

The large databases such as, FindMyPast, MyHeritage and FamilySearch all have lots of record sets researchers do not know exist or do not think to check.  Find examples below of out of the box sources. 

These are not comprehensive lists, but rather lists to get your creative juices flowing as you start to explore unusual genealogy sources for your own ancestors.

One of the places I like to check for unusual records is the recently added records section. A quick check today on yielded the U.S., Baseball Questionnaires 1945-2005 record collection. I’m thrilled, because I do have baseball players among my ancestors.

Screenshot of Ancestry records

Find more unusual sources by searching the card catalog in each of the databases. Search by record type (such as Schools, Directories and Church Histories) and narrow down by your state and county location.

More Unusual Genealogy Source Examples in

Is your genealogy research stalled? Try finding your ancestors in uncommon genealogy sources.

Examples of “Out of the Box” Genealogy Sources in FindMyPast 

Is your genealogy research stalled? Try finding your ancestors in uncommon genealogy sources. #genealogy #ancestry #familyhistory

Examples of Unusual Genealogy Sources in State and Local Archives

State and local archives are full of unusual and uncommon genealogy records potentially holding clues to your ancestors.  Take time to discover what types of records your state archives has. Check their card catalog and/or talk with an archivist. Don’t forget the online collections!

  • Merchant account records – Potential source of a merchant’s customers.
  • Cemetery Surveys – Potential source for family cemeteries [I found documented oral histories in these records!]
  • Road records – Potential source for placing your ancestor in time and place.
  • Records of lunacy – Potential source of individuals declared lunatics.
  • School Records – Potential source for children, school teachers and superintendents
  • Minutes for the Warden of the Poor  – Potential source if your ancestors were poor and required assistance from the county
  • Published Family Histories
Find and use uncommon and unusual genealogy records to find your ancestors. #ancestry #genealogy #familyhistory
Marshall High School, Richmond, VA (Source: Library of Congress)

Examples of Unusual Genealogy Sources Within Your Own Family

Do not overlook possible record sources held within your own family!

Find and use uncommon and unusual genealogy records to find your ancestors. #ancestry #genealogy #familyhistory
Church Histories – An Unusual Genealogy Source of Information
  • Published family histories – Often these can be found in the local library or on your family’s bookshelf. Use these as clues and verify the information.
  • Oral histories from distant cousins. Actively seek them out!
  • Oral histories from family members with dementia.  Our family members who suffer from the unfortunate diagnosis of dementia can still offer insight into your family history.  Read tips and suggestions for interviewing a family member with dementia.

Take time to explore unusual and “out of the box” genealogy sources. When you’ve hit that genealogy brick wall – which we all do! – thinking outside the box can jump start your research.

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  • Toni Bettencourt

    I actually have a question that I hope you can answer for me or direct me to a reference that covers it.
    I have yet to find a reference that provides suggestions as to how to find your female ancestors siblings. I am, searching for my paternal grandmother’s brothers and possibly a sister. No one still living in my family knows how many siblings she had, although it is believed she had 2 brothers and maybe a sister. I believe we have her mother’s name, but not her fathers. Any ideas as to where I should start or a reference I could use?

    • LisaL

      If the correct time period, check the 1900 and 1910 census records. These both list the number of children a woman had and the number of children living. This could help confirm the number of siblings there were. Other resources might include your grandmother’s marriage certificate/record (see who witnesses were), newspapers in the area, and even church records might help. Also, since you have her mother’s name, research her thoroughly. Who did she marry (if she married)? Who appears next to her in the records? Essentially, determine possible sibling candidates and then research those individuals out. This type of research can be tough. Often there is no “one resource”. You’ll need to build your case by studying who is in the community.

  • Eddie Rogers

    Hi Lisa,

    I enjoy your helpful and informative articles. Those who do research do not think of all the various avenues one can tap into to find their ancestors.

    I wanted to let you know that I publish a weekly International newsletter and I add your helpful and informative articles to these newsletters as I receive them from you. So, you are getting more exposure.

    The newsletter covers different categories. So, there is something there for many people to tap into. Genealogy being one of those categories.

    Thank you Lisa for all you do to help us with our search for our ancestors and have a blessed day in Yeshua/Jesus.

    Eddie Rogers, Minister, D.D.

  • Sophie K

    Hi Lisa – was delighted to discover your article on diversity of sources for genealogy research. It’d be great to see more people tapping into a range of resources when they’re fleshing our their family tree! I’ve linked to your piece from my recent blogpost where I discuss Negative Space ( and how to use it to your advantage, so I hope some of my followers will gain some useful ideas from your suggestions. Thank you!

  • Ann Faber

    Lisa, Have a great uncle, John Czarnetzki (Born in Germany with that name), immigrated with parents Michael and Mathilda in 1893, settled in Cleveland,Ohio. Long story – He fell off the grid so to speak, found in 1913 under John Czarnecki who married a Bertha Ost in Cleveland. Daughter Dolores Margaret born in 1915; son Robert J. born 1924-25, DOD 1929 after a T&A at St. Alexis Hospital in Cleveland. Then John is gone again. He also went by the name of Carr as my grandfather, John’s brother, went to court and had the name changed in the late 1920s.

    Family lore – house fire late 1929 or 1930; John walked away from it all. Wife was in the 1930 census under a boarder at someones boarding house; no Dolores unless maybe she was with one of Bertha’s sisters families.

    john worked as a Candymaker for some years during their marriage with Bertha’s Father, his name was John Ost. As far as a career that is all I know.

    A John Carr ended up on the 1940 Census of the Cleveland Psyc. Hosp. on Turney road; age was right but no place of birth given. Question on the 1940 census was was this the “Inmates” address in 1935 and it was marked yes.

    Have tried and tried to find information on this and just run into walls. They all ask for a death date. I do notknow the death date – part of the reason I am looking. Even Johns great granddaughter does not have that information. Her knowledge ends when the son of John, Robert died. What do I do?

    • LisaL

      Will they accept a range of years for the death date? Sometimes I have to give a “guessestimate” and request a search on that. You can also request a search for a death certificate to get the death and them pursue the hospital records.

  • Treva Clark Fry

    Hi Lisa, I really enjoy reading your posts!
    I do have a “brickwall” question for you. My grandmother, Loberina Mary Marie Evelyn Romanello, she went by multiple names, married a man named James Ferrara in Detroit, Michigan in 1920 and that I know is a fact. She used the name Liberina Romanello at that time. I have also located her on census’ under the name Mary, Liboria, etc. My problem is that she is said to have been born in Cleveland, Ohio on 9/14/1903, but I am unable to find ANY proof of that. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!!
    Thanks, Treva

  • Lyn Dimmig

    Lisa, After at least ten years of searching for my grandfather, I can’t break the brick wall. He left my grandmother in 1912 in New York City.I have found him in various states until 1930 when he is in Bay city, Michigan. He does not appear in the 1940 census. So I have searched the ten years between 1930 to 1940. No luck dead or alive. What next?

  • ronnie janecka

    GREEN K. CESSNA is at the top of this list. Can you tell me what does the top number over the year means? Where can I find his application for postmaster? Where were the Postmasters appointed…in the city, at city hall, where they resided? Or did they go to D>C>?

    Thank you> I have been a regular subscriber of your blogs for couple of years .

  • Ann Faber

    I have an great uncle, born in Germany, he and his parents immigrated here when John was about 1 or 2 years old. They settled in Cleveland, Ohio. John’s last name from Germany was Czarnetzki. He was always on the census as Czarnecki and later as Carr. John’s parents are Michael Czarnetzki and Mathilda (Wegner) Czarnetzki. In the 1935 Ohio State Census (John was married to a Bertha Ost andthey had one daughter Dolores and a son Robert who died at St. Alexis Hospital in 1929 after a tonsillectomy at the age of 4 or 5. After that John disappears off the grid. Noone ever talked about a John Carr when I was growing up. John had one sister Clara, three brothers Phillip, Leo and Frank. Frank is my grandfather. I found a John Carr on the Ohio State Census of 1935 and the Federal Census of 1940 as an inmate at the Cleveland State Hospital as an inmate. Maybe that is why no one ever talked about John. The only column that was not filled on on both of these was his place of birth which was Germany.

    I have tried to find out what happened to John—-was he transferred, did he pass away at the hospital and buried on their grounds – I cannot get to first base withanyone as this was a psychiatric hospital. John Carr in a search bar shows many John Carrs and I have looked as many of them and they are not our John.

    Is there a way to find out —-I get this story from everyone “oh they are psychiatric records, only immediate family can ask —-well there is also that 50 year rule also. I worked in medical records in a hospital here in Michigan and know the HIPAA rules etc. HIPAA did not apply back then. Any ideas as to how I can close this brick wall? In searching ran across his granddaughter and we exchanged what information we had – John is also her brick wall.

    Would appreciate any help at all. E-mail address above. Thank you so much. Ann (Johnson) Faber, granddaughter of John’s brother Frank J. Car.

  • Micki McLaughlin

    Thank you for this article about out of the box research. You posted a link to U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939. For years we’ve been trying to follow up on husband’s great-uncle – family lore that he went to WWI & never came back, but we had no factual info. I clicked on your link, put in his name, and there he was! Now we have a military service number, name of his ship & arrival port, etc. With this info. we can better search military records and hope to find out more about his death in Europe. Thank you!!

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